This is a story of tending deep roots, as ancestral gardeners.
Imagine a great-grandmother, one from a children’s story, or an ancestor you have known or heard about. She offers you a golden thread to hold and invites you on a journey to your own ancestral tree as threads of connection are woven along the way. Sitting by the warmth of a fire, wrapped in a cozy blanket or shawl sipping a favorite cup of tea, may the wisdom of our ancestral trees, like our great grandmothers, lead us to our heartwood and inner tree of life.
Thread of Regeneration and Great Spirit
Dream: The Wave 08/2018
I am holding onto a pole in the middle of the ocean. A huge wave is coming, and I am with an older woman; a teacher or elder. The pole is an anchor, so we don’t get swept away. Anticipating the timing of the wave, holding onto the pole we hold our breath preparing for the wave to wash over us, but the timing hasn’t yet come. We do this three times. Then, without notice all of a sudden the wave has arrived, and we are in a protective still space like the eye of a storm. Within the hollow centre of the wave, I am surprised that we can breathe and feel at peace. Considering we may be under deep water once the wave has washed over us, we anticipate the timing of its completion, preparing to take another deep breath in preparation. Without notice, the wave has moved over us and I am again surprised that we don’t need to hold our breath, as it is over in a flash.
~ Celtic Tree of Life
The pole in my dream is a symbol of the Tree of Life, or axis mundi; the connection between heaven and earth. According to Mircea Eliade, a Romanian historian of religion, “Every Microcosm, every inhabited region, has a Centre; that is to say, a place that is sacred above all.” Like a lighthouse, the pole in the centre of the vast ocean is a beacon for safety and direction, reminding me of the lodgepole used in the Sun Dance, a Plains Aboriginal cultural ceremony, or the Maypole dance of my Celtic ancestors to ensure a fruitful planting season.
Phil Lane Jr., Judie Bopp, Michael Bopp, Lee Brown and elders share in the book, The Sacred Tree: Reflections on Native American Spirituality,
“The Sacred Tree represents the Great Spirit as the center pole of creation, a center for balancing and understanding ourselves as human beings…the unseen roots in Mother Earth represent the invisible aspects of our being and the part of the Sacred Tree above ground represents those aspects that are visible. When we understand and balance these parts of ourselves, the tree of our being will grow rich with abundant fruit that contains the seeds of yet further growth, development and wholeness.”
At the time I had this dream, I wondered if it signified a wave of grief and change that I/we were all preparing for. With the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, our collective grief is surfacing like a great wave crashing on a shoreline; eroding the foundation of a crumbling dream and outdated paradigm, clearing the way for a new foundation. As change washes over us all, what might it be like to deepen our roots and become centered and balanced by the Tree of Life; our connection to the Great Spirit of Creation?
Thread of Friendship and Faith
Trees have always provided me with comfort; a place for me to ground, strengthen and nourish myself in times of instability or facing the unknown. I have a memory of a large tree with sprawling branches in my childhood schoolyard; I imagine it could have been an ash tree, known for magic, enchantment, expansion and growth. It was the only tree in the yard, and all the children gathered there, playing, singing, skipping and climbing. There always seemed to be enough room for everyone. It was our shelter and safe place of connection. I often climbed trees as a child, leaning into them, telling them my dreams, stories and secrets; they were treasured and trusted friends.
Right: Me and my son, Tim, and Grandmother Cedar.
Some of you reading this story know of a very special, treasured and trusted tree friend called Grandmother Cedar. Throughout history, cedar trees have been appreciated as a sign of strength, endurance and eternity. Grandmother Cedar has been a beloved elder to me and to many who have visited my home at Northern Edge: Transformational Leadership Centre in Algonquin Park. When my family and I first arrived here in 1993, the front yard that overlooked Kawawaymog Lake (aka: Round Lake) was mostly sand, and at the center stood a magnificent cedar tree. Her roots were exposed and carried the potential to be burned by the sun. Over the years we built up the earth around her, planting clover to protect her roots. In return, she provided shade for our children and grandchildren, and a place of gathering and connecting, just like the tree in my childhood schoolyard. As our relationship with her deepened, we came to know her as Grandmother Cedar. When I have felt doubt, sadness, grief, fear or anger, she has always provided a safe place for me to be witnessed and heard; to restore my balance and just Be. Many ceremonies and songs have been centred around this beloved tree as she offered shelter, reassurance, comfort and companionship to many souls on their journey ‘home’ to their hearts.
On Earth Day, April 22, 2020, our beloved Grandmother Cedar Tree was taken down. I awoke at 3:00AM that morning with a vision…
I am in a cave, with a fire burning at the centre. My mother and grandmothers all gather around me, along with Grandmother Turtle, and all of my spiritual allies. A sea foam colored shawl, the color of my mother’s eyes, is placed upon my shoulders; a symbol of my new role/mantle that I have been reluctant to acknowledge and accept.
I have had this shawl tucked away in my closet as a keepsake from my mother, who brought it back from Ireland. It still carries her slight scent and provides the kind of warmth that seeps into the bones, like the feeling of her soft hands placed gently on my shoulders. It has been almost four years since her passing, and the shawl is a stark reminder of my commitment to use the gifts she gave me to continue serving and healing. I have worn it on a few occasions, and appreciate now more than ever what it symbolizes. At no other time have I felt a calling so strongly to step into my role of leadership with faith, fully centered and balanced in my spiritual roots, connected and guided by the Great Spirit of Creation, living in service to life as the winds of evolution swirl around the world.
Thread of Healing and Feminine Value
The week before Grandmother Cedar was taken down I encountered a very old yellow birch on a walk. In Druid symbolism, the birch tree is a ‘Goddess Tree’ or ‘Lady of the Woods’; bringer of promise, light and new beginnings. I scrambled over the snow bank, and wound my way around logs, twigs and brush to the tree. I asked permission to sit with it to receive any wisdom it had to share. With my back up against its trunk, connecting with its heartwood – its core – I found my spirit sitting inside of the tree, with my mother and grandmothers again gathered around me. They brought me back through time, to a dream within a dream, recalling a vision I had when my mother began to decline in her health…
I enter the doorway of a silver tree to a room with an old wooden table with a beeswax candle for light and a freshly made pot of tea. My great grandmother, Mame, is there, with a shawl on her shoulders sipping from a teacup made of china, just like the ones I received on my birthday from my own grandmother. The silver tree, like our old Christmas tree from the 60’s, is covered in multi-colored jewels, except for one bare limb.
Following the golden thread, I retrace the story of what this vision means and how it came to me…
The night before visiting my ailing mother, my husband had a dream in which my deceased father said, “Martha’s real Mother died when she was four-years-old.” I knew the dream carried a key to understanding the deeper cause of her ‘dis-ease’. I recalled her being in the hospital when I was four. She was severely anemic, and needed many blood transfusions. Our father was preparing us for the possibility of her death at this time. I asked my mother to share with me what was happening around the time I was four. She shared with me the deep suffering of loss and separation she endured with the death of her father, alongside the feeling of being overwhelmed with the hands-on work and responsibility of caring for her growing family. Her needs and self care were placed on the back burner. During this time period, women were discouraged to work outside the home if they had children. My mother was a trained nurse, a profession that deeply nourished her and affirmed her soul’s purpose. In her training she had a particular passion and calling for working with people in the psychiatric ward; she had a depth of compassion for people with mental illness, and a natural gift and ability to connect with them. When she was engaged in her gifts and purpose through her service as a nurse, she received great value, care and support from the mother within herself. She left her nursing practice to become a homemaker, raising her six children.
I once attended an art exhibit of a woman who suffered with mental illness during the 1960’s, while raising her large family. Expressing her emotions through painting and utilizing her artistic gifts was her saving grace, helping restore her mental health. It leads me to wondering how many women during that era were diagnosed with mental illness and placed in mental hospitals, because their gifts and purpose were not valued and respected, and the deep need for belonging was unfulfilled.
After my mother recounted this challenging period of her life, she asked me if I could dream on her behalf, to discover the root source of her unwellness, and reveal what healing she needed. That is when I first met our silver ancestral tree, with an understanding that I was beginning to prepare my mother for her eventual death.
Within the silver tree, my Irish Great-Grandmother, Mame, greets me. I ask why she is there and what she and the tree have to do with my mother. She invites me to sit and have a cup of tea with her, explaining to me that she has been a caretaker for my mother’s soul. Another door appears on the opposite side of the tree. She opens the door to reveal a youthful, joyful and carefree part of my mother wearing an emerald green dress, dancing in the sunlight of the rolling hills of Ireland. With the support of Mame’s spirit, we reunite this part of my mother’s soul with her own heart and spirit.
After the healing session was complete, I described the silver tree to my mother with the one branch that was still bare. She said, “Oh, that means there’s still time!” Indeed, there was still time to gather more gems of wisdom and nourishment, helping restore herself to wholeness, and bringing to completion her role and commitment of healing the ancestral wounds of the feminine she embodied.
Thread of Soul and Restoring Wholeness
Intrigued by this silver tree, I later learned in a Celtic story entitled ‘Voyage of Bran’, of a silver branch with apples or apple blossoms that is a passport to the Celtic Otherworld, the Land of Promise, “Wherein there is nought save truth, and there is neither age nor decay nor gloom”. The branch creates beautiful music that soothes those afflicted with illness or injury, including women in labour, lulling suffering souls to sleep.
Going deeper still, following the golden thread further back, I remember that my Irish great-grandmother, Mary E Renaud (Casey), or Mame as she affectionately called, had a very close relationship with my mother. I recall many stories of my strong and independent great-grandmother, who used black shoe polish to cover her grey hair. She was widowed at a young age left to raise her large family and run a farm during the depression and WWII. Standing at 5’2 she was very strong willed and well respected as a midwife for many women in the county where she birthed my grandmother. Mame and my mother had something in common, as they both embodied the gifts of the flame-haired Irish Goddess Brigit, goddess of healing arts, fire, and passion. Brigit was a midwife of life and death as well. Mame continued to be a midwife in the spirit realm, as she took up residence in the heart of our silver ancestral tree, a place in between life and death. Mame patiently cared for this part of my mother’s soul that fragmented during her experience of grief and trauma around the time I was four, until it was time for this part of my mother to return to her.
Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner entering altered states of consciousness in order to sense and interact with the spirit world. Soul loss is a shamanic term used to describe the parts of a life essence that can be forgotten as a result of a traumatic experience. Many describe a feeling of emptiness or a dark void as a result of trauma. Symptoms of soul loss include chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, PTSD, immune deficiencies, chronic and prolonged grief, and addictions. It can take time to prepare one’s inner soil for a soul part to be remembered and returned. For the healing to fully integrate and take root, one’s focus needs to be on the gift of returning life, not the suffering of the trauma. The recipient needs to be ready and willing to engage in the tending of their inner garden, nourishing their connection with their soul.
My mother attempted to fill her emptiness with alcohol in an attempt to cope with and numb her pain and suffering. Providing nourishment to her family and to all those in need was very important to my mother. She lived her life in service to life, with impeccability, integrity, compassion, strength and courage; she was a healer and holder of people’s hearts and souls. The year my twin daughters were born, my mother had an alcohol induced near death experience, during which she made a commitment to return to her life and heal, nourishing herself in balance of nourishing others.
As my mother prepared for her transition into the spirit realm, I began to see visions of her sitting inside the silver ancestral tree, sipping a cup of tea in place of her great-grandmother, Mame. The limb that had been bare was now completely filled out and the jewels had transformed into fruit of all different kinds. She was in between life and death, and invited her loved ones to join her for a cup of tea and to feast upon her life, receiving all the gifts she had to share before she left. The fruit of the silver tree reflected the immensity of her gifts. Each piece of fruit was a jewel of her labour and deep commitment to healing. With her soul parts re-membered, my mother’s spirit was ready to travel ‘home’ in wholeness, healing the wound of separation that had been at the root of her suffering.
Thread of Promise and Strength
Upon my Mother’s death bed, she gave me a beautiful gift. Standing next to her bedside, as she lay unconscious, I looked out the window and heard the voice of her spirit say ‘come outside’. I went out and was guided to be with two oak trees; a tree that symbolizes strength, stability, longevity, power, endurance and wisdom. As I stood between them, I cried a river of tears, feeling the presence of both my mother and deceased father within these trees. After some time, my mother said with a sense of impatience, ‘‘Are you done now?”, as I wiped the tears from my eyes. She then said in a stern voice, “Now look here, what have we been working at healing all of our lives together?” I responded, “The belief that we are separate.” She then said, “I want you to promise me that you will always remember; I am in your heart and in life all around you.” I made a promise to her, that I would remember to remember.
As I went back inside the house, instead of turning left to go back into the room where my mother lay, I went to my own room and called my twin daughters to wish them a happy 34th birthday. While I was on the phone, my mother took her last breath. She died on the 34th anniversary of her sobriety, fulfilling her commitment to healing, as she passed forward the nourishing light of the mother to me and her descendants. I believe my mother chose this significant day to complete her physical journey. My twin daughters with flaming red hair and green eyes, just like my mother turned 34 that day, reflecting the age she was when she first became ill. Perhaps the deep healing she underwent would break a cycle of depression, mental illness, and addiction, empowering the next generation of mothers and daughters to feel valued and respected, with a sense of belonging.
At the time of her death, her spirit shared with me that it was time for me to prepare to receive a new mantle, as she stepped into the role of a supporting ancestor spirit. My new role was symbolically represented by her sea foam colored cloak from Ireland, connected to the Goddess Brigit, ‘Source of healing, song and art’. She invited all her descendants to receive a blessing as the fruit of her womb, feasting upon her life and the gifts she bestowed.
Thread of Core and Weaving
The yellow birch I had been leaning up against when all of these memories flooded in, showed me how we grow from the inside out; from the core, as we shed our outer layers making room for new growth. I have shed many layers in the last four years, gradually growing, and preparing to receive a new mantle. Yellow birch trees only grow from the trunk of a Mother birch tree. I understood that there is no possible way for my mother and I to be separate, for I grew from within her, and she now resides within me.
As I grow in my willingness to evolve, she grows with me, as I am an embodiment of her gifts, wisdom, love and spirit. The time is now to take my ancestral shawl out of the closet, dust it off and wear it with love, gratitude, respect and self value.
I have often sensed a group of grandmothers deep at the roots of Grandmother Cedar, weaving golden and silver threads. Each thread holds the fabric of a dream and prayer, traveling down the tree, through the roots where the grandmothers tend to them. The weaving of these threads with tender love, care and blessing of the Grandmothers strengthens each prayer and dream, like a braid of sweetgrass as an offering to the Great Mother.
Before my mother’s burial, my sisters and I placed a woven crown of flowers, herbs and vines upon my mother’s head imbued with our prayers, to be brought to the grandmothers at the roots of the Tree of Life. My mother is with them now, weaving, as an ancestor spirit.
I noticed Grandmother Cedar Tree losing more and more vitality, after my own mother’s death, shedding more and more of her leaves, leaving whole limbs bare. Gradually a hole developed and widened in her trunk, where we might imagine her heart to be, where wasps and other insects made their home. It became clear that Grandmother Cedar was preparing for her own transition, carrying the woven dreams and prayers with her to be manifested.
Thread of Nourishment and Home
affectionately known as The Mother
On April 12th, 2020, Easter Sunday, a day representing resurrection, renewal and the promise of hope, my husband Todd and I created a sourdough starter. We then baked our first batch of sourdough bread, on Earth Day, the day Grandmother Cedar came down. Baking bread in the hearth of our home dedicated to the Great Goddess on Earth Day, was fulfilling a promise I made to my mother, engaging in an activity that nourished our connections, our lives and our home.
Baking bread is a historical ritual of nourishing and feasting the life force, the spiral of life within us spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. On this significant day as the song Ave Maria, a familiar song from my Catholic upbringing played in the background, I was struck by the significance of this turning point in human evolution; a time of re-balancing the masculine and feminine. I see a vision of the inward and outward spiral. Never has Earth Day had so much meaning and significance. As human activity is stilled and silence pervades, Mother Earth’s voice is finally heard calling her children home. Feasting upon this bread, together, we embody the light and the life force of creation, empowering us to rise up, and be resurrected to live our greatest potential in love, unity and peace.
Grandmother Cedar has been a voice of the Great Mother, calling us home. The time of living our lives externally has come to an end. We must find our way back home to ourselves; our inner life and drink from our inner well and light. Our disconnection from Mother Earth; the power of creation and spiral of life has led to disharmony, emptiness, war, conflict, and unfulfilled lives. We are now at the Great Turning point, moving to the centre of the spiral, going within to the place of oneness. It can be a treacherous journey without tools to navigate the dark passages; however, we have the light of our hearts to lead the way.
As Grandmother Cedar’s trunk came down, she was held by the rebirthing energy of the New Moon supporting her transition into a new role as an ancestor tree spirit and guardian of the New Earth. Numerologically this day resolved to 444; April (04) 22(4) 2020(4). Some themes and interpretations of the number 4 are: “You are on the Path of Awakening, You are Fully Supported in Your Life Journey, You are on the Right Path, Just Trust, You are in Harmony with the Universe, Listen to Your Intuition, You’ve Entered a New Path of Spiritual Awakening, All is Well”. In the Tzolk’in Mayan Calendar it was also “5 Qawok”: “A day to recommit to nourishing health and wellbeing. This day represents The Divine Feminine and women in all their roles and walks of life. Kawok is the patron of midwives and the Maya pray on this day for harmony in their home lives and among their friends.”
To have Grandmother Cedar’s physical vessel taken down on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, was a sacred act of honoring the ancestors, prayers and support systems of the past, clearing the way for living in deeper balance and harmony with our Earth Mother. With the advent of the pandemic, repressed collective and ancestral grief began to surface. Turning inward, and courageously being with what is dying, changing and evolving within and around us, with full presence, is how we heal. On Earth Day while humanity was invited to focus their love, gratitude and care for the earth, we could not imagine a more loving prayer than to hold Grandmother Cedar in her beauty and fullness, as she transitioned into the spirit realm.
Thread of Community and Ceremony of Life
Grandmother Cedar was a beloved tree to many in our Way of the Circle Centre community. Many noticed and sensed a drastic decline in her life force energy in the past year, receiving dreams and insights prompting us to prepare for a time of great transitioning.
In different ways we connected in living ceremony; in person at circle gatherings, by video or conference calls, or spiritually in dreamtime. Like the grandmothers at the base of Grandmother Cedar, we came together to weave all the many coloured threads of prayer into a design of love and gratitude for her life.
In preparation for how to honour her life, as a circle at our Heart Wood gathering in October 2019, this dream came to me…
I see sweet grass; the hair of mother earth. Our human hair is, too, sweetgrass. The grandmothers are brushing our hair and caring for us, offering comfort and soothing us from the experiences we are all undergoing. It seems like a long journey of being tended to. We are gathered at the roots of Grandmother Cedar as her seeds and flowers are being woven into our hair. Together we are becoming the chord, or song of creation; the golden thread. Grandmother Cedar becomes a vibrating light, connecting us all. She is transitioning. It is important to use all her parts before she is gone, to weave the medicine into us.
We listened to Grandmother Cedar’s spirit voice, who was inviting our community to fully utilize her physical vessel and be nourished and blessed by the fruits of her healing and wisdom. Some saw visions of sacred fire ceremonies with her wood, or tying prayer bundles in a spiral form on her trunk.
Some saw her trunk being reshaped into chairs, a table, an altar, or statue; or the cutting of branches into staffs, or drum sticks, or amulets to be worn by circle members. Her cedar leaves were gathered, stored and frozen to be steeped in hot water for future sauna ceremonies.
Some of these threads began to weave into a Grandmother Cedar Tree book, an ongoing project of honoring the wisdom of her teachings, stories, poems, art, and songs that live on in our hearts.
Waking early in the morning the day she was taken down, I sat with her for a long time, offering prayers and ceremony. I smudged her with sweetgrass and sang the Cedar Song. In a time of physical isolation, unable to gather in person with other circle members, I called in the Spirit of the circle.
Community members connected spiritually, each tuning into living ceremony where they were. As we connected with the heartwood, allowing ourselves to be with our emotions around Grandmother Cedar’s death, we revealed what was ready to shed, making room for new sprouts of life. Rooting with the new Tree of Life, we wove our prayer threads of seeding and rising in the beauty of Creation.
As I went to gather my drum to offer her prayers during her felling, I heard her trunk come down; it was a swift and graceful transition. Just as I wasn’t there to witness my mother’s last breath, I wasn’t there to witness the moment Grandmother Cedar came down. After she fell, I offered my prayers through the singing of the Cedar Song that came through circle member, Michelle Girouard. If I had been there at the final moment of Grandmother Cedar’s fall, this is the scene that may have replayed in my mind with a focus on a past moment of her death. As soon as I invest my energy and focus in the past, I cannot access the full potential of my life’s inherited power and gifts. When I relish in the past and replay what once was, I might miss the moment; as I cannot live in the past. In the present moment, everything is living in me.
Grandmother Cedar shared the same message with me that my mother did on the day she died. To remember to remember; that she, too, resides inside each of us. We are invited to feast upon Grandmother Cedar’s life, utilizing all of her, taking in her nourishment, inheriting her power and strength so we may rise into our greatest potential.
Thread of Grief and Our Deepest Love
The woven story of Grandmother Cedar Tree and my mother has taught me to honor the process of grief, to trust and surrender to it’s flowing wisdom. As I allow myself to go within and hold the tender and vulnerable places inside me, I grow with compassion and understanding. Death in its many forms, like the pandemic we are presently experiencing, offers us an opportunity to be cleansed by the waves of grief as we go deep within ourselves. Acknowledging what needs to change, we offer and receive forgiveness, evolving out of old habits and hurts. Filling ourselves with gratitude for the gifts in our lives, we remember ourselves in our wholeness.
When Grandmother Cedar came down, we were surprised to see a group of roots growing upwards through her trunk. To me, this symbolizes the roots of mother earth’s heart reaching up to connect with our heart roots. To see those roots coming up, affirmed how much work and tending we have invested in as a circle, to go within and be the ancestral gardeners, aligning our heartbeats as one with the earth and the pulse of life. The more we tend our relationship with the earth, the stronger our inner core connection to the Great Spirit of Creation becomes.
With many braids of sweetgrass, using white and yellow daisies, I wove a crown for Grandmother Cedar, which was placed on her remaining trunk; a symbol of honor and glory, celebrating the completion of a life well lived.
Returning to my Wave dream, I suspect the older woman in the dream was my mother. Together we hold the lodgepole; symbol of the Great Spirit of Creation, connected to the root of love, the golden thread that connects us all through our hearts. Centered and balanced in the still point of my heart, I am safe, calm and at peace, ready to take up my new mantle and step fully into my potential; evolving ancestral stories within my own blood and bones as I balance the masculine and feminine within. I endeavor to be the brightest lighthouse I can be, tending my spiritual roots and nourishing my faith and connection to my heartwood and inner Tree of Life.
For this exercise you are invited to go outside and visit with a tree that calls to you. As you visit, imagine being guided by the loving hand of a grandmother helping spirit, connecting within the core of your ancestral tree. What might it be like to receive nourishment, and remember yourself in wholeness?
After your experience, what might it be like to engage in a creative piece that expresses your ancestral tree? Perhaps this can be a drawing, a poem, a dance, a song, a painting…
Guided Active Dreaming: Connecting with your heart, imagine what it might be like to follow a golden thread to an ancestral tree. What kind of tree is it? Is it flowering, fruiting, fragrant or pungent?
Imagine a door appears. What shape and color is the door? Does it have any special symbols on it?
The door opens as you step inside of the tree, to a cozy and comfortable room. What kind of nourishment awaits you there? Perhaps some freshly baked cookies, chicken soup or a cup of cocoa or tea?
Like a babe being cradled by its mother, find a place to rest in the heartwood of the tree. With your imagination create a nest for yourself in your treehouse that feels secure, cozy and nurturing such as a hammock, futon, bubble bath or loft bed.
As you snuggle into your cozy nest, place your hand upon your heart, connecting with your breath while tuning into your body. Imagine the heart of the tree growing roots down while connecting to the heart of Mother Earth, as though the tree itself was cradled in her arms, as you, too, are cradled. What would it be like to become the tree, feeling your roots growing down.
Where might you feel tightness, or a lack of flow? With your breath, soften the tight places of holding. Where do you sense a need for nourishment? Within your heart, connect with the golden light, or nectar within you. Allow this golden nectar to expand and flow to the spaces that are seeking nourishment within you.
What would it be like to allow the nectar to flow bringing sweetness to congested, hard, bitter or tender places of vulnerability in your body? What would it be like to remember yourself in wholeness?
Connecting with the heart of your ancestral tree, does the tree have any messages for you about how you are growing?
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